In the last post I talked about perspective and how it seems to be a catalyst for positive change in our lives. This week, the conversation is all about Insignificance. However, before we go any further, I want to clear up some definitions. I think a lot of people hear “meaningless” when they hear insignificant, but there is a very clear distinction between the two. In order to talk about meaningless, we need to talk about meaning. Meaning is something we apply to an event or action in our lives. It’s completely subjective. It’s different for all of us. Whereas insignificance is really more of a pragmatic or even mathematical look at things. When we talk about insignificance, we are talking about the measurable level of importance a thing has on our lives, and specifically what little effect that thing really has.
So let us now talk about insignificance in relation to my last post. The big moment of Perspective for me came in the view of the universe as a whole. I’ll use this example as it can be very clear to see, but perspective will come in many different ways for all of us, and at different times, different forms of perspective are needed. I gave the example of our sun exploding and that moment having little significance to the universe as a whole. There are so many greater things happening in the universe at this very moment that we can’t even really comprehend most of it. Black holes, colliding galaxies, supernovas… it’s enough to warp our brain. And yet, all the things we know and have ever experienced are here on this tiny planet, third from our sun, in a distant arm of the Milky Way. On this planet we have seen destruction on a massive scale. Extinctions. Ice ages. War. All of these things, that in the grand picture of space and time, have only taken a tiny fraction to occur. But for those of us experiencing these things, it’s all that matters. And there in lies the difficulty. How do we use insignificance to have a better outlook on life and our troubles, when our troubles seem to be the biggest thing that’s ever happened? This is where perspective comes into play. Seeing the big picture of what’s happening in our lives and measuring the level of importance of the thing that’s happening now.
You must see that I like using examples, so here’s another. This probably happens to most of you (and if you live here in Southern California, this happens to all of you). You’re getting onto the freeway and it’s jammed. You know you’re in for a long drive at a snail’s pace. You’ve been here before, no big deal, right? Well, it would all work well if it wasn’t for the person in front of you who is leaving a football field’s length between him and the next car. You keep seeing other cars merging into the large gap. You start to get upset at the person, inching closer to their bumper. Sensing your presence, they slow down even more (as if such a thing was even possible). Well now you’re mad. You lay on the horn, flash your lights and scream from inside your car. Eventually, the car merges over or you find an opening to pass them and at most, you’ve lost 10 or 12 spaces in a slow crawling convoy of commuters. In a moment like this, perspective and insignificance can save you from some very unnecessary anger. The perspective comes in assessing your situation. You’re sitting in a car (which you own), heading to a job (whether you like it or not, it’s a rare thing across the world), to earn money, to buy food, to put into the refrigerator that is in your house or apartment (where you have clean water and a roof over your head). You, my friend, are a very lucky person at this moment. Instead of being angry, this is a moment to be whistling on your way to work. Life is good.
Insignificance. We can apply this to the problems we’re having or the things that are making us angry. It just requires a little perspective first. But let’s not fool ourselves. There are moments that are significant. Even if worlds and galaxies are colliding in other parts of the universe, at those times, those moments are the most significant things in our lives. And I’m not talking about the good stuff. We all love the good stuff. I’m talking about the bad stuff. The stuff we’d like to not have to think about. The things that happen in life that can crush our spirits and break our hearts. It’s important to acknowledge the feelings we have. Anger isn’t a bad thing; it’s necessary at times. Sadness and sorrow are not bad things; they help us get through difficult times. But it’s allowing these feelings to take over us, where we are no longer in control, where things can go wrong. Go ahead and be angry at the guy on the freeway; but only for a second. Then take a breath and seek some perspective and you’ll see there’s no reason to be upset. But it’s good to get it out. Don’t bottle up your feelings or push them down into some dark recess of your mind. Feel them. Let them do their thing. But only for as long as it’s serving you in a positive way. Then after that, let it go, and realize it’s Insignificant.
Next time you find yourself upset over some thing. Seek out some perspective (feel free to use my grand picture of the universe, or that clip from Contact). In that moment of perspective, ask yourself, on a level from 1-10, how important is the thing you’re upset about, in comparison to the perspective you have just found? I’ll bet you you never get above a 5. I’d say most of the time, you’ll come in at a 3 and under. No reason to be upset over a 3. From there, it’s a simple hop over to “Gratitude”, and the next part of our discussion.
Cheers for now.